Auburn Football Program Drops the Ball on Academics

Though they're headed for the national championship game, all is not well at the Alabama school.

By Julianne Hing Jan 06, 2011

This weekend the number one-ranked Auburn Tigers will play the Oregon Ducks in the national college football championship. But new NCAA academic numbers shed some light on what Auburn’s had to compromise to get to the top.

The New York Times reports that Auburn ranks 85th in the NCAA’s most important academic achievement measure–it tumbled down from its 2006 No. 4 spot, which turned out to be the product of grade inflation and a records-fudging scandal. The NCAA releases its academic scores every four years.

Other college officials have praised the school for basically having no choice but to submit to more transparency. "When those loopholes are closed and the issue is dramatically different, it shows that the loophole was being used," Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University, told the New York Times. "I applaud Auburn. They really did make a concerted effort to curb those abuses. We should applaud them even if they dropped 80 points."

But it’s not just scandal Auburn and other colleges should be ashamed of. Auburn also has the distinction of having the highest racial disparities in graduation rates between white athletes, who all graduate, and black players. Only 49 percent of Auburn’s black football players leave the school with a diploma. And it’s not just colllege football players who get churned through the college circuit and leave without a degree. (See: Kentucky’s basketball team.)

As is so often the case where race is concerned, we’d be wise to pay attention to what’s left unsaid:

[Auburn senior linebacker Josh] Bynes, who is black, appeared more bothered by the graduation-rate disparity between black and white players than in the plunging numbers in the Academic Progress Rate. When asked for reasons, Bynes began to answer.

"Maybe because it’s — never mind," said Bynes, who graduated in December. "I don’t want to say nothing."

The senior offensive lineman Mike Berry, who also graduated, cited sociological reasons for the disparity. "School systems coming out of high school and stuff like that," he said.

He added: "It’s one of those things; we put an emphasis on not getting around things. You’re not going to be able to do that in the real world."

What a heartbreaking passage. Young black men are enrolled in fine colleges and don’t arrive with the academic preparedness or aren’t given the institutional support to actually graduate. And after college, what then? Just 1.8 percent of NCAA senior football players go on to play in the NFL.